New US stimulus bill could come as early as Monday

A bipartisan group of US senators will unveil legislation as early as Monday for additional fiscal stimulus worth about $900bn, in an effort to speed up aid to an economy at risk of a further dip owing to a record spike in coronavirus cases. 

But Mark Warner, one of the Democratic senators leading the ten-strong bipartisan group pushing for the relief money, acknowledged the effort was taking fire from both sides of the aisle over their proposal for a four-month emergency package.

“We may have to go through a few more days of drama,” Sen Warner told CNN on Sunday. He added that it remained unclear whether Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell would permit the legislation to go forward for a vote, despite expressing positive sentiments about the effort.

The proposal includes $288bn in small business aid, $180bn in unemployment benefits that would boost weekly payouts by $300 and $160bn for cash-strapped state and local governments. It would also offer aid to troubled sectors, including $17bn for the airline industry. One sticking point remains whether to accord liability protection for businesses that reopened during the pandemic.

Prominent progressive Democrats including senator Bernie Sanders have opposed any move to bail out corporations, claiming many have failed to look after workers during the pandemic. They also oppose the deal because it lacks direct payments for the most vulnerable.

“That’s wrong morally and it’s wrong economically,” he tweeted on Friday, adding he would not support the legislation unless it were “significantly improved”.

Dick Durbin, another Democratic senator in the bipartisan group, told ABC News on Sunday that such $1,200 direct payment cheques would cost an extra $300bn, however. But he nonetheless urged support for the coming bill, saying 12m Americans were set to lose their unemployment insurance on December 26.

Fears of a faltering US recovery have re-energised stalled bipartisan talks after a weak November jobs report on Friday showed employment growth slowing to a monthly pace of 245,000. There are still 9.8m Americans without work compared with February.

The US has also seen a series of record daily highs of coronavirus in the past week, logging 224,831 new cases on Friday. More than 101,000 were in hospital on Friday and Saturday, marking another grisly record, according to the Covid Tracking Project. The daily death toll surpassed 2,500 on Friday for the third day in a row, dipping just below that on Saturday. More than 7,000 remain on ventilator support.

Donald Trump, who held his first live campaign rally over the weekend since he lost the election, would probably need to approve the deal unless both the House and the Senate pass legislation with a two-thirds majority. Neither the president nor many of his supporters wore masks at the event in Georgia, which has experienced a record number of new cases of Covid-19 in past days.

Bill Cassidy, a Republican senator among the bipartisan group pushing for a deal, said he was “optimistic” both Mr Trump and Mr McConnell would “come on board”.

Joe Biden, the president-elect, has expressed support for a deal, although he said on Friday it would be “better” to include $1,200 direct cheques. He said then he thought that “may still be in play”, although Republicans have dismissed the idea.

Mr Warner said his group planned to hold a “multihour” call later on Sunday to determine final language of the legislation and insisted it was likely to pass if it were given floor time for a vote.

“It would be what I call ‘stupidity on steroids’ if Congress doesn’t act,” he said on Sunday, arguing neither side would get the full amount or all the components they wanted.

Additional reporting by James Politi and Courtney Weaver in Washington

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